Skyrim (360)

It’s been a year now since Bethesda released its highly anticipated follow up to the excellent Oblivion.

So why am I posting about it now? The first time I played the game, I progressed quite far until I got fatally frustrated with it and threw it onto the shelf never to see it again. At least, until I watched a video of someone playing it on Twitch again, which sparked some rekindled interest.

I decided to give it another go and try this time to play it with a more favourable character set up. Pure mage characters are indescribably flawed in the game and I found playing with it a constant cycle of ‘reloading save games’ that had me throwing controllers in anger. The thief/assassin get up has proven so far to be a much stronger and better suited character to the gameworld as the archery skill is clearly a main focal point to the game.

Set 200 years further down the timeline, the game is the fifth instalment to the popular Elder Scrolls series of RPG games based on the fictional realm of Tamriel. This has given the game world plenty of time to develop a dynamic, vibrant world rich in lore. There is literally days worth of dialogue in the game, some frustrating, some having developed internet meme levels of fame.

The open gameworld format means the freedom expressed in the virtual world is immense. There is never any obligation or pressure to fullfil any quest line, be it main or side. It allows you to continue to explore the world, develop your character and simply enjoy the incredibly beautiful scenery that has made this game so damn successful.

I’ve also recently bought an expansion, Hearthfire. I never normally buy expansions, but this addition allows you to draft your own manors, build houses and furnish them in your own personal way.

It’s far from perfect though. 360 load times can be frustrating, especially if you’re in an errand boy quest line, having to run from inside to outside constantly triggering reloads. It has also been described as a little tedious and a bit of a chore. I must admit it’s rare I’ll listen to any dialogue now, choosing instead to fast skip the scenes and get on with the game play.

Recent games like Far Cry 3 have also shown how a proper stealth game should work. Skyrim does it too, but there are comedy moments sometimes, such as city guards staring straight at you as you are in supposed ‘stealth mode’.

The sheer dynamic depth of the game lends itself to exploration. They’ve managed to silence some of the criticisms from Oblivion, such as repetetive dungeon layouts, by creating a much more vibrant and colourful world. I’m still occassionally thrust into dungeons that are quite beautifully designed, forcing me to spend a few seconds to look around.

When a game can do that, I’ll champion it. And with a beautifully haunting soundtrack, graphics that are pushed to the limits and believable gameworld physics, it contains a level of quality and sheen that I haven’t seen in a long time. You are clearly in the company of developers and designers heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings trilogy as there are vivid aural and visual comparisons to be seen.

If it weren’t for its buggy nature, I’d give it a higher score. But it has bugs. A lot of them. The massive depth of missions and quests mean that sometimes there are crossovers and you’re supposed to interact with an NPC that you also murdered on a previous quest, meaning you cannot progress the mission anymore. Also, I rage when I’m trying to get through a door way but I can’t because my mercenary helper is just standing there and doesn’t get out of the way. Why does a helper have a higher model priority than me? I should be able to just push him aside but I can’t.

I absolutely love the way that there are no invisible barriers as you can often have with sandbox games. Mountains, if at all plausible, can be climbed, enabling clever shortcuts, but getting stuck in an invisible crevice forcing reloads is no fun.

I’m playing more this time round than the first attempt a year ago. Which is strange. I guess it proves that some games are like fine wines and are better enjoyed with age.